The employment interviews for the minor wing-nuts that continue to populate mainstream radio can’t be that complicated. Is the prospect committed to the increasingly tiresome and doomed right-wing agenda? Do they promise to promote Big Oil’s excuse-making for its obscene profits and its attack on solid global warming science? Can they recite scripts featuring constant phony attacks on biofuels and all other forms alternative energy? Will they adhere strictly to GOP talking-points designed to portray Barack Obama as a Wright-believing, brie-eating, America-hating elitist? Good, you’re hired. Check your conscience at the door and we’ll see you on Monday...
Besides that, there does not seem to be a whole lot expected from the minor league off-peak and fill-in blowhards. Although the whole point of this kind of heavily-scripted, unoriginal programming is supposed to be "entertainment" for selfish, angry white males – Obama is coming for your SUV! – there is little in the voices and presentation that makes any of the shows worthwhile for anything but sheer amazement of what these people are doing on the air. From nightmare-smoker-at-the-end-of-the-bar Vicki McKenna to soft-spoken Sykes-wannabe Jeff Wagner to morning chucklehead Jay Weber, all of the third-tier (there is no second-tier) squawkers that soak up the innings while Sykes and Belling do their show prep in corporate boardrooms are a collection of the most uninteresting voices you could imagine behind a radio microphone.
But, even among the tedious and mundane, there is one voice that stands out. That voice belongs to James T. Harris.
Harris was plucked out of his well-earned obscurity as a self-styled inspirational speaker after calling frequently into Charlie Sykes’ show as "James from Sherman Park", the kind of African-American seminar-caller Sykes and other radio hacks like to parade around as the "true" voice of the city. You know the drill: they always make sure to mention they are black, always make sure to mention they are conservative (for which they are patted on the head by the patronizing host), blah de blah blah.
Harris holds down the non-Brewer Saturday and Sunday afternoon no-one-is-listening shift at WTMJ, while other AM talkers are running innocuous real estate, financial and computer advice shows, and also fills in for Wagner when he is not around. His radio demeanor is extremely light, like he can’t even bring himself to talk directly into the microphone. He seems very amused with himself, chuckling with every lame observation or attempt to outrage. Again, you wonder about the station manager that hears crap like this and then says "Yeah, let’s get that guy on the air."
Substance-wise, Harris seldom strays from the mundane wing-nut orthodox talking-points left behind by others. When he adds his wacked-out personal touch, he often uses his (he thinks) protected status as a black man to spin racist tripe about Barack Obama. He calls Obama "the Chocolate Jesus", something no one else could get away with. Like other African-American conservatives anointed by his white benefactors, he has the right-wing blame-the-victim thing down-pat, blaming his less fortunate (i.e.: less accomodating, less corporate-sponsored) brothers and sisters in the city for the legacy of slavery, the long history of someone else’s racism, their systemic poverty and uncomfortable underclass behavior.
Some of this is too much for even his corporate enablers at TMJ. Harris has two versions of his blog – laughingly titled "The National Conversation". One is on the radio site (although, interestingly, it is not linked or allowed a button on Sykes’ vanity-blog page along with the other hosts); the other is titled "the National Conversation (Raw)", which has the more unfiltered content. It is on the (Raw) site that you will find more of James the Ridiculous, such as supporting the racist comparison of Obama to Curious George (banana and all). In his latest post, Harris complains about Sen. Herb Kohl accurately saying that the obscene profits of Big Oil were "unfair". "Sen. Kohl, I'll tell you what isn't fair. It isn't fair that you represent Wisconsin," says Harris, perhaps forgetting all those elections the senator fairly won. "The only reason why you are still a Senator is because you saved the Bucks, and because you are filthy rich. Well guess what? The Bucks suck."
Astute analysis, is it not? But, Harris plods on, using his TMJ platform to acquire TV face-time (on Sykes’ Sunday show, natch) and an unfortunate recent puff-piece on OnMilwaukee.com. He is the perfect example of the extent to which mainstream radio will go to maintain its poisonous right-wing message. They’ll accept any level of lameness in their hosts, as long as they toe the corporate line. And when it comes to jumping through hoops, carrying water and shilling for the right-wing agenda, the only question James T. Harris has is: How high, how far and how often?